Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Not too wiki?

Re-reading Tim O’Reilly’s definition of what web 2.0 is (http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html), allows me to consider another aspect of its relationship to enterprise knowledge management. Lately, we’ve heard much buzz about the wisdom of crowds and wikis for example. I happen to agree that the collective perspective, insights, and solution provided by a group are generally better than that generated by a lone individual (or I wouldn’t be in this business). I also think that wikis have a clear advantage to their users, as the potential participative opportunity should allow users to feel invested in the results produced in a way far greater than simply submitting to a corporate repository.

So what’s the issue? The issue is, “How should organizations develop enablers like wikis to make knowledge management more effective?” By definition, wikis ought be somewhat authoritative. Wikis are not a place for wildly divergent ideas although acknowledgement of differences certainly should acknowledged, as they would be in any well researched document. In any case, where is this authoritative content supposed to come from? My guess is subject matter experts. Which subject matter experts? Probably the same ones in the organizations today. So what are we going to do differently to tease out expertise from this group that we haven’t done in the past? It's easy find experts in any organization. You ask around and you hear the same names come up. It's not always so easy to see their expertise in writing because they're busy making use of that expertise, not writing it down.

We’ve been down this path before. Communities of practice are modeled after communities of interest. Communities of interest get their fuel from the passion each member has for the narrow topic of interest they’re involved in. While I don’t have any research at hand, I suspect that it’s possible that some community of interest members are so passionate about their interest, that they may be involved to an extraordinary degree. We try to get CoPs to mimic the same behavior—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What do we miss there? And, what might we miss if we simply tell subject matter experts that now they’ve got a much easier way to publish their knowledge for the benefit of everyone?

Perhaps this will have to be a convergence between the exploratory wiki-thinkers and the stodgy old, formal knowledge management types. Introducing wikis without considering change management, or denying how newer collaboration methods can increase interactivity will likely lead to less than satisfactory results. Neither approach alone will get us there. It’s not a matter of what, it’s a matter of how. So how?